EXCLUSIVE: (UPDATED WITH HFPA RESPONSE) As the beleaguered Hollywood Foreign Press Association pledges to reform itself, Netflix has declared that it will not be working with the Golden Globes group until it gets its act together, to put it mildly.
“Like many in our industry, we’ve been waiting for today’s announcement in the hope that you would acknowledge the breadth of issues facing the HFPA and provide a clear roadmap for change,” the streamer’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos wrote in a letter Thursday to the HFPA’s Leadership Committee that Deadline has obtained.
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The correspondence from the top exec came on May 6 after around 75 of the insular HFPA’s 86 members voted for an inclusion and overhaul proposal the group’s board put forth at the beginning of this week. The HFPA has been scrambling since it was revealed just before February 28’s semi-virtual Golden Globes that the freewheeling group had zero Black members. Amid a series of stumbles and critiques since, the HFPA saw racially offensive remarks from a former president and newly minted Diversity and Inclusion advisor Dr. Shaun Harper and fixer supreme/Scandal inspiration Judy Smith both resign in frustration last month.
In that context and under pressure from Comcast-owned NBC, which televises the Globes, the HFPA was hoping this week would be when things started to turn around. They may have been a bit too optimistic.
“Today’s vote is an important first step,” Sarandos noted in Thursday’s letter to HFPA brass. “However, we don’t believe these proposed new policies — particularly around the size and speed of membership growth — will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate.
“So we’re stopping any activities with your organization until more meaningful changes are made.”
“We know that you have many well-intentioned members who want real change — and that all of us have more work to do to create an equitable and inclusive industry,” Sarandos added in conclusion. “But Netflix and many of the talent and creators we work with cannot ignore the HFPA’s collective failure to address these crucial issues with urgency and rigor.”
While calibrated and parsed, Sarandos’ letter putting the HFPA on notice and turning off the journo-run nonprofit’s tap to one of the biggest sources of talent and content has to hit where it hurts.
Or, let’s translate that into raw math for the annual Globes ceremony, which NBC pays $60 million a year to air: Netflix dominated this year’s Golden Globes nominations among studios and streamers with 42 overall and came away with six wins — four for its drama series The Crown, along with wins for The Queen’s Gambit and Chadwick Boseman’s performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. That total was triple the wins from any other distributor at the HFPA’s 78th annual event.
Netflix declined to comment when contacted by Deadline about Sarandos’ letter, or other discussions with the HFPA.
The HFPA did respond (eventually), in their own way.
“We hear your concerns about the changes our association needs to make and want to assure you that we are working diligently on all of them,” current HFPA president Ali Sar wrote to Sarandos later Friday. “We would love to meet with you and your team so we can review the very specific actions that are already in the works,” he added. “An open dialogue would help to ensure that we are addressing these concerns as quickly as possible.” Sar then went on to challenge several of Sarandos and Netflix’s claims about the state of the organization and its reforms – Read the full HFPA response below.
In other conversations over the past few days and in an addendum to Sarandos’ letter, Netflix has advocated that the HFPA adopted a definable set of awards-season rules and a clear and immediate code of ethics, I hear. Unlike the current nonplussed attitude the HFPA takes, with press conferences closely connected to Globes nominations, gifts, member selfies, and other grifter-ish methods, the streamer has suggested something similar to what AMPAS and the TV Academy do. Such a written-down playbook of sorts could begin to wash off the taint the HFPA has in terms of transparency and governance.
Accordingly, Netflix has also recommended that diversity and inclusion be part of the 78-year-old group’s mission statement as part of a commitment to the process of an HFPA that looks more like Hollywood. To enlarge that aim practically, the streamer has urged the HFPA to think bigger and faster. Specifically, Netflix believes the group’s plan to add 20 new members by the end of the year and fatten up its total membership by 50% is too little too late. Oddly, according to correspondence we have seen, Netflix refer to the process occurring over three years, while the HFPA has said it will take no longer than 18 months. Nonetheless, streamer co-run by Reed Hastings feels the HFPA should grow to more than 300 members to truly enact change and inclusion, and that the timing should be in a matter of months, not over a year, sources close to the talks tell me.
Once again, the clock is ticking for the HFPA.
Earlier today 100 global PR firms said publicly that they would “continue to refrain from any HFPA sanctioned events, including press conferences, unless and until these issues are illuminated in detail with a firm commitment to a timeline that respects the looming 2022 season reality.”
Now Netflix is taking the speak-softly-and-carry-a-big- stick approach, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt – and that may carry all the weight in the world, finally.
So, with Time’s Up, top flacks and the National Association of Black Journalists all already expressing their displeasure with the HFPA and its attempt at reform, and NBC putting the pressure on behind the scenes, who will be next to stand up now that Netflix has added its voice to the chorus?
READ THE FULL HFPA RESPONSE LETTER TO NETFLIX CO-CEO TED SARANDOS HERE:
We have always valued our relationship with Netflix as we seek to bring news about motion pictures and television to the world. We hear your concerns about the changes our association needs to make and want to assure you that we are working diligently on all of them. We can assure you that our plan reflects input from our supporters and critics alike, and we truly believe that our plan will drive meaningful reform and inclusion within our Association and in a way that the entire industry can be proud of. We are proud that our plan was overwhelmingly approved by more than 90 percent of the membership—there is no question the membership is embracing this opportunity.
We would love to meet with you and your team so we can review the very specific actions that are already in the works. An open dialogue would help to ensure that we are addressing these concerns as quickly as possible.
Also, we wanted to take the opportunity below to address several issues that you raised and to clarify some misinformation.
· Diversity and inclusion is at the core of our reform plan and is one of our foundational pillars. We have committed to bringing on a new DEI consultant immediately, as well as a Chief Diversity Officer, to ensure that these issues permanently remain at the heart of our organization. We also are committing to a significant DEI training program for our members and staff.
· In our plan, we committed to, at a minimum, 50% growth in 18 months, not 36 months, and to reevaluating the size of our membership after the first 18 months as we grow our staff and can accommodate more members. We have also committed to expanding our professional staff.
· Our plan includes the establishment of an independent review board to help guide the implementation of our reform plan.
· Per our plan, our current members will have to comply with any and all new eligibility criteria just like our new members.
· Press conferences are not mandatory for nominations and indeed many nominated shows have never had press conferences.
· As our plan states, we are immediately evaluating our code of conduct and that revised code will address the press conference concerns you cite. The new code of conduct also will enhance our campaign protocols following strict ethical standards and best practices.
· We also are committed to meeting with the personal publicists to understand and address their concerns about the scheduling and conduct of HFPA screenings and press conferences, and to ensure that these concerns are incorporated into our new code of conduct.
Deadline’s Patrick Hipes contributed to this report.
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